Frequently people ask me what Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is, so I thought I would give you an example of what a session might look like. The other day I had a powerful interaction with a horse named Frankie, pictured above. I was getting ready for my riding lesson, and I asked Rose, my teacher, who I should ride, Frankie or Theo. She told me I could choose. I have been riding Frankie almost exclusively for two years. However, recently, I have also started riding Theo. This has been a positive change and has really helped me move through some areas where I have been stuck. As I walked to the paddock, where Frankie and Theo live, I became filled with conflicting emotions. Was I disloyal to Frankie by considering riding Theo? I was feeling a lot of guilt. In an EFL session, the client and facilitator would delve into those emotions and thoughts. It might go something like this:
Client: I feel guilty about possibly choosing to work with Theo. I'm being disloyal to Frankie. He has done so much for me.
Facilitator: Close your eyes and go into your body, and notice where in your body, you feel that guilt.
Client: It's in the pit of my stomach. It feels like a knot in my intestines.
Facilitator: Breath into that knot and see if you can make the feeling bigger. You are safe, and if at any time you feel that the sensation is getting to be too much, you can imagine the sensation getting smaller and further away, and the sensation will lessen. You have complete control. What happens as you beath into that knot?
Client: I remember when I was a kid, I had two friends, and one asked me to go riding with her, and we didn't include my other friend. She was so hurt, and she got furious at me. I felt so bad. I was upset about that choice for a long time.
Facilitator: What would your older self like to say to your younger self about that situation? Do you have any advice you could give her about the situation?
Client: I don't know... to not be so hard on herself. She didn't mean to hurt her friend. What she did wasn't malicious.
Facilitator: What happens as you share this advice with your younger self?
Client: The knot releases. I don't feel guilty any more. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me.
Facilitator: How do you feel about choosing between Frankie and Theo now?
Client: Can I ask them who wants to work with me?
Facilitator: Sure, why not?
Client: But what if neither of them what to work with me?
Facilitator: What makes you think that?
Client: I heard that thought in my head.
Facilitator: Does that thought have a voice? Does it sound like someone?
Client: Oh shit! Yeah, it sounds like my dad. He always made me feel like I wasn't good enough. He always ignored me and made me feel like no one would want to be with me.
Facilitator: Have you had people in your life that want to be with you?
Client: Yes, of course!
Facilitator: So is it true that no one wants to be with you?
Facilitator: Do you want to let the horses choose?
The client and facilitator walk into the center of the paddock. Frankie and Theo are at the far end of the paddock. The client then asked the horses who wanted to work with her today. Theo turned his head and looked at her, and went back to grazing. Frankie turns and looks, and then he looks away. After a moment, he looks at Theo and then looks back at the client, turns, and he walks over to her.
This actually happened, but I was the client and the facilitator. Knowing how to facilitate a session allows me to work on myself as stuff comes up. EFL work allows clients to delve into their emotions, erroneous thinking patterns, and messages sent by their bodies. A wide variety of tactile and emotional sensations can be the keys that help to unlock issues that are causing the client discomfort or problems. Working in partnership with horses allows the client to raise these issues to address them safely and in a nonconfrontational manner. What the horses help the client experience allows the client and facilitator to delve into and explore the issue, allowing for growth and transformation.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that there is no better feeling than when a horse chooses to work with you. The more you work with horses, the more you will notice that they have distinctive personalities, they think, make decisions, like to help those that need it, and form relationships, just as humans do.